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Henley Leadership Group Blog

A Culture Of Belonging Creates A Team That Thrives


If you’re wondering what belonging has to do with work performance and productivity, the answer is:  Everything.

Belonging is more than just a feeling; it's a fundamental human need. The experience of being seen, heard, and accepted for who you are shapes your sense of belonging. Whether it's on a playground as children or in the workplace as adults, the need to belong remains a constant.

Reflecting on your own experiences, you may be able to recall moments of inclusion as well as exclusion — how feeling welcomed, valued, and respected fostered a sense of belonging, while being judged or overlooked left you feeling disconnected. Each of us has a story of when we felt like we did belong and how significant that feeling was.

In the workplace, cultivating a culture of belonging is everything. At the heart of every successful team is a sense of inclusion and acceptance. Recognizing this, our team prioritizes creating an environment where every member feels valued and understood.

Monthly check-ins serve as a platform for team members to share not only their work-related concerns but also personal challenges. By understanding each other's experiences, we can provide the necessary support and encouragement.

What does it mean to belong? Recently, members of our team reflected on their perspectives on belonging. Here’s some of what they shared:

“I feel like I belong when people reach out to me, ask me my thoughts, encourage me to share. In meetings, as an introvert, sometimes I get quiet, especially if there are lots of loud opinions. I will rarely elbow my way into the conversation. But if even one person notices my silence and asks what I'm thinking, I suddenly feel seen and then heard.”

“I experience belonging when I notice that I am not questioning other people's motives or values.” 

“How do I know I belong? When I feel heard and understood. To feel heard, I hope that another or others are with me as I share, not agreeing with me, but rather getting what I am saying, conveying and relating with their words, with their eyes, and face, and body. Once I feel heard, when the other or others mirror back to me what I've conveyed, I feel understood, and I relax. Knowing and believing that I've said what I wanted to say, and seeing it acknowledged through body language, eyes, nods, reflections of me from them.”

“My experience of belonging is really affected by me welcoming and allowing myself to be part of something bigger than just me and committing to participating in something that I sometimes avoid.”

“I feel like I belong when I'm at my peak level of excitement and someone can stick with that force. A raised eyebrow or a smirk that says, ‘Whoa,’ is fine; it's like we’re in on the joke of my big energy together. But when someone shifts away, physically recoils, or worse, shushes me, I withdraw. I will withhold myself instantly, for fear of being too much, too loud, too big, too passionate, too direct. Belonging feels like those who accept me for who I am.”

These are moving testaments to the power of belonging. Unfortunately, the reality in many workplaces is that there may be any number of individuals who have experienced exclusion or felt the need to hide aspects of their identity to fit in at work. This not only undermines their sense of belonging but can also impact performance.

How Belonging Fosters High Performance

If you’re wondering what belonging has to do with work performance, the answer is simple: Everything. 

Research published in the Harvard Business Review on The Value of Belonging at Work demonstrates just how closely belonging is connected to both individual and overall business performance:

“If workers feel like they belong, companies reap substantial bottom-line benefits. High belonging was linked to a whopping 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick days. For a 10,000-person company, this would result in annual savings of more than $52M.” 

Whether you’re working in a 10,000-person or a 10-person company, those numbers add up. 

As a leader, you play an essential role in shaping an organizational culture that fosters high performance and success — for individuals, the team, and the business as a whole. Creating an inclusive environment where each person feels valued for who they are enhances employee engagement and overall satisfaction. It means people have both the support and the motivation to show up and contribute their full talents every day. Who wouldn’t want to lead and work in an environment like that?

Belonging isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity for team members to thrive at work. By fostering an environment of acceptance, understanding, and appreciation, you can unleash the full potential of every team member. Commit to building a workplace where everyone feels like they truly belong.

Previously published on Forbes